This had been a bad-tempered week, full of fan grumbles and “fix” claims for the BBC’s ballroom behemoth. Happily, now it was back to choreographic business. As Strictly’s 19th series entered its home stretch, the pressure was on and the stakes were high.
Our eight remaining pro-celebrity couples were all desperate to dance through to next week’s Musicals special. Who will rise to the occasion? And who looks set to fall agonisingly short of the contest’s next milestone? Here are the 10 biggest talking points from this year’s eighth live show…
Not a dry eye in the house after Rose Ayling-Ellis’s silent dance
The Couple’s Choice category, introduced in 2018, can be divisive among Strictly purists. When it works, though, it sets the BBC ballroom alight. That was certainly the case with EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis’s contemporary routine, which created a magical moment of profound power and beauty.
It told the story of Rose’s deafness and how she overcame obstacles to carve out her career. Barefoot, lyrical and beautifully fluid, it featured lifts so lovely that it looked as though Rose was flying. Best of all was the bold section when the music dropped away. We were left watching the couple dance to the sound of silence.
The lyrics to “Symphony” by Clean Bandit couldn’t have been much more resonant, with lines like, “Before all I heard was silence,” and, “Now I’m dancing on to your heartbeat.” Together with the pre-dance VT’s visit to theatre company for the hearing impaired, Deafinitely, and a post-dance message from pupils at deaf school Hamilton Lodge, it all added up to a poignant 10 minutes of primetime TV.
The judges and Rose’s pro partner Giovanni Pernice were left in tears. Anton du Beke said it was “the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on this show” – a major compliment, since the King of Ballroom has been there for all 19 series. Ever since scoring the earliest perfect 40 in Strictly history a fortnight ago, “Team Rio” have been the bookies’ favourite to lift the glitterball trophy. Their odds surely shortened tonight. Bravo.
Rhys Stephenson scored maximum for “a-may-zing” Charleston
CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson has been told all series to rein in his natural energy and channel it to capture the character of different dances. He had no such problems with the cheeky Charleston, which suited his bouncy, Tigger-ish energy to a tee.
Set to “The Charleston” by Bob Wilson and his Varsity Rhythm Boys, his riotous routine conjured up the Roaring Twenties with bags of style. With a rowing boat theme, there were straw boaters, pinstriped suits and all the swivel that the most picky judge (yes, we mean you, Craig Revel Horwood) could desire.
Rhys had lightning-fast feet, exaggerated the quirky character and his side-by-side synchronicity was professional standard. He and pro partner Nancy Xu are the only couple to score a 10 but also appear in the dance-off. Well, here he scored four more of them and topped the leaderboard for the first time. Like the man said: a-may-zing.
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John Whaite’s samba shimmied him into third spot
Buff baker John Whaite brought the romance last week with his intense, intimate and “gaw-jus”rumba. Tonight, he stayed in his Latin lane but delivered a starkly contrasting dance. Set to “Acuyuye” by New York band DLG (it stands for Dark Latin Groove, fact fans), his samba was fast, ferocious and full of shoulder shimmies.
Rhythmically speedy and packed with steps, it had an Afrobeat section, supple hips, fluid transitions, bounce action and the requisite Rio carnival feel. The samba is his partner Johannes Radebe’s favourite dance. Even though it’s notoriously difficult for celebrity males, John didn’t let him down.
When the judges gave it two 10s for a total of 38 points, John muttered “hell’s bells”. In another week, he would’ve topped the standings. Here he had to settle for the bronze medal position. Week eight is the furthest Jojo has ever gone in the contest. He’ll surely go all the way to the grand final this time.
AJ Odudu went from top to bottom after patchy paso
TV presenter AJ Odudu topped last week’s leaderboard with her near-perfect flapper girl Charleston notching 39 points – only a Craig-pleasing left foot swivel away from a maximum. This week’s paso doble with pro partner Kai Widdrington promised much but sadly didn’t deliver.
Set to the dramatic electro-pop of Ruelle’s “Game of Survival”, it was strong and intense but a little stiff, lacking Spanish line and flamenco flourishes. Tom Fletcher impressed with a traditional bull-fighting paso last week – AJ’s was more adventurous but didn’t quite connect. A total of 28 points left her rock bottom of the scoreboard, quite the fall from grace.
The highest-scoring celebrity in the contest before tonight, AJ deserves to reach for the final (probably alongside John Whaite and Rose Ayling-Ellis) but she needs viewer votes for once. Let’s hope the public comes through for her because she’s one helluva dancer. This just wasn’t her week.
A scoreboard of two halves
Now the field has been cut from 15 to eight couples, everyone performed a different dance for the first time this series. And crikey, was it a night of contrasting fortunes. Three of the celebrities – Rhys Stephenson, Rose Ayling-Ellis and John Whaite – scored nine perfect 10s between them. They clustered at the top with 40, 39 and 38 points, respectively.
Below them was a gulf of six points to the trailing pack. The other five couples all scored between 28 and 32 points. At this stage, the judges are beginning to clamp down on details like head position and haphazard footwork. Good news for the pace-setters, less so for the strugglers.
Dapper Dan’s American smooth was his best dance yet
BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker had a tough week. First he took the brunt of complaints after Adam Peaty’s exit. A vocal minority of viewers claimed it was unjust that Walker stayed while the Olympic hero went home. Tabloids fanned the flames of controversy and targeted the blameless Walker unfairly.
To add injury to insult, he’s also been suffering with a sore calf, which cut down his training time with pro partner Nadiya Bychkova. You wouldn’t have known it from his dapper, razzle-dazzle American smooth to country classic “King of the Road. Channelling Fred 'n' Ginger, it had tailcoats and canes, kicks and lifts.
OK, it lacked a little swing and sway but it was full of charm and style. Dan duly got his first nine (dear old Anton du Beke is a sucker for Hollywood glamour), and his highest total score of 29 points. He still hasn’t broken the magical 30 barrier but he’s making slow but steady progress, overcoming his fears and leaning to love dance
Despite being the lowest-scoring celebrity left, Dan the Man has so far dodged the dance-off. He was joint second bottom but after this week's outpouring of support and a sweet speech about inspiring novices to hit the floor, Walker might just be saved again.
Tilly Ramsay’s quickstep left her at risk again
Child-friendly chef Tilly Ramsay got a dance-off scare last weekend but defeated swimmer Adam Peaty and survived. Now she had the perfect redemptive routine to put it behind her: a light, bright quickstep to open the show.
Set to jazz standard “I Won't Dance” by Damita Jo, it was fun and frothy with Charleston steps, sassy character and plenty of drive around the floor. However, it looked heavy at times and she lost synchronicity with pro partner Nikita Kuzmin mid-routine. A score of 29 points was Tilly’s lowest for five weeks.
She celebrated her 20th birthday this week and was surprised by her family in training - minus her father, who was presumably busy shouting in a kitchen somewhere. Gordon was in the Elstree Studios ballroom tonight, though. Probably wise to watch his daughter dance while he still can.
Sara Davies disappointed with Argentine tango
Dragon’s Den star Sara Davies continues to boing up and down the leaderboard like a businesswoman made from rubber balls. Here she settled in the middle, partly down to some generous marking.
Set to Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand’s disco diva classic “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)”, her Argentine tango with partner Aljaž Škorjanec was atmospheric with great posture and presence, drive and drama. However, it seriously lacked sizzle and passion. A score of 32 points was on the generous side, especially that nine from Anton du Beke.
The down-to-earth Durham “mumpreneur” is clearly popular with the public, whose votes have lifted her clear of dance-off danger every weekend so far. She could well be saved again but looks to have hit a hoofing wall. “Howay”, as Aljaž likes to shout.
Waltzing Tom Fletcher could be in trouble
McFly frontman Tom Fletcher and Welsh pro Amy Dowden notched a pair of perfect 10s for last week’s balletic paso doble. Their Viennese waltz wasn’t in nearly the same league. Set to alt-rock ballad “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls, it was bumpy and underpowered with faltering footwork.
Tom had scored 29 for both his previous ballroom dances so far. He went one better here but was still a mere two points off the bottom. Was that paso a fluke? Is Tom a one-hit wonder? Votes from the McFly fanbase might rescue him from the dance-off but he deserves to depart in the next few weeks.
Half the field in dance-off danger
The dance-off has been unpredictable in recent weeks, with the likes of Rhys Stephenson and Tilly Ramsay making shock appearances, while Dan Walker and Sara Davies kept escaping. Well, this week it’s anyone’s guess. Tilly and Dan were down there again but, shockingly, AJ Odudu was lowest of the lot. At this stage of the contest, though, the middle of the leaderboard becomes a dangerous place, which brings Tom Fletcher and Sara Davies into play.
Anything could happen and there’s still everything to dance for. The results show airs at 7.20pm on Sunday 14 November, when one couple will board the sequin-spangled bus home. The remaining seven pro-celebrity pairs will progress to Musicals Week at 6.35pm next Saturday.
Join me back here afterwards to discuss who was a Broadway hit and who was a box office flop.Until then, you know the drill: keeeeeeep dancing.
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